The BIG Debate: Curve Balls, How Old?
I can remember driving all day to watch, what many local high school coaches were calling the "Next" MLB superstar...But what I saw was nothing remotely close to a SuperStar. In fact, this young man would never pitch in college much less the MLB...Because it was obvious he'd fallen in love with the curveball at an early age.
And sadly, I see this a lot.
Young pitchers experience tremendous success at the lower levels for one simple reason....Hitters struggle with the curveball. So, what I'm about to share with you goes against traditional thought when it comes to "What age should young pitchers begin throwing the curveball"...Depending on what scientific journal you're looking at, you're going to find conflicting reports.
Several studies advise against throwing the curve ball. Not this one. The following is an excerpt taken from “Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers : A 10-Year Prospective Study,” Glenn S. Fleisig, James R. Andrews, et al., Am. J. Sports Med. (2011) Inside this study it stated that curveballs aren't to blame for pitchers elbow pain or arm injuries.
Thus, the true risk of serious injuries to youth baseball pitchers is unknown, and the risk factors leading to these injuries are unproven.
Well if it hasn't been proven to increase the likelihood of injury, what's the problem?
Pitcher's never learn the importance of the fast ball and how to use it. They never develop:
- Location & Feel
- Speed changes
And most importantly, CONFIDENCE IN THROWING THE FAST BALL!
While recruiting, it's common place to see high school pitchers that are 13-2 or 12-0 and have no chance of pitching at the college level. They are prime examples of pitchers developing a dependency on the curve ball. Their thought process becomes to show the fastball and use the curve ball. Basically, the curve ball is their #1 and the fast ball is #2. As you can probably guess, both their command and velocity end up being below average. I don't know, but I have to think these guys learned a curve ball at an early age, experienced success, and it was down hill from there.
Every curve ball thrown by a young pitcher equals one less fast ball. Pitcher's that throw more curve balls will develop a curve ball, pitchers that throw fast balls will develop a fast ball. You choose.
If you watch enough baseball, you will find there's a lot of hitters that struggle with breaking balls. It's evident at all levels, even more evident with younger age groups. Therefore, the pitcher achieves instant success. And let's face it, it's pretty cool being able to make the ball "curve".
The youth pitcher's intent becomes more focused on a better curve ball.
He doesn't try to throw the ball harder very frequently and in doing so, drastically decreases his chances of learning to throw the ball harder.
Meanwhile, he becomes dependent on the curve ball for success. The curve ball becomes a part of his repertoire and trickles into his everyday routine. He doesn't learn the importance of pitching off the fastball. The pitcher doesn't have to worry about throwing the fastball for a strike, he can do that with the curve ball and besides if it isn't a strike, they will swing anyway. The development process is stunted! The next step in the process, wait until he fails!
Most players aren't willing to make a change if they are experiencing success with what they already do.
"If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Because most of the mechanics and movement patterns are formed in our earlier years. The older we become, the harder it is to change or alter these patterns. Everything you do is a pattern and throwing a curve ball creates patterns to benefit the curve ball. The same is true for the fast ball.
Case in point.
A couple of weeks during a break in sessions, I asked both Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm the same question. "How do you guys throw so hard?" "Have you ever asked yourself that question?"
Both look at me and without even blinking they say, "I don't know, I've always tried to throw hard."
Justin says...."I didn't pitch much when I was young. I actually played center field and I can remember...(At this moment he starts laughing), "Whenever the ball was hit to me, I would try to throw it over the back-stop and hit the concession stand!"
Neil Ramirez laughs and then says...."I mostly played shortstop and the only thing I ever tried to do was knock off the first basemen's glove...It got to the point, my coach would tell me to stop. But, I never did."
You think this is a coincidence? I don't. If I had to guess, I'd say I've had close to 20 pitchers that could run it up around 98-100 mph and if you asked each the same question...."How do you think you're able to throw so hard?" I'm 100% convinced, most answers would be similar to Justin's and Neil's...."I've always tried to."
Getting back to my original point on the main problem with the curveball is this.
The biggest problem with pitchers throwing the curveball at an early age isn't necessary the risk for injury, but the risk of slowing down the fastball/velocity development process.
If it is more important for 10 yrs old to be the highlight of his career, then throw the curve ball. If not, developing the fastball should be the top priority for all youth pitchers and youth leagues. Why is there such an urgency for the curve ball and instant rewards? Travel ball! It seems there is a need to win right now in the world of travel ball and the development process is secondary at best.
Instead, it's all about winning. The pitcher wants to make the team, he wants to WIN and believes the curve ball will be the answer. Personally, I think the breaking ball is an easy pitch to learn so why rush it now?
Take winning out of the equation and place development first.
The youth pitcher should learn:
1. The fastball is the most important pitch in baseball.
2. If he wants to throw harder, he has to try and throw harder.
3. Learning to feel the difference between balls and strikes is more important than throwing a secondary pitch.
4. The first off-speed learned should be a secondary fastball.
5. Learn to pitch off your fastball at an early age and you will be a step ahead of the competition into the high school years and beyond.
The curveball is a very easy pitch to teach and there should be no rush to learn. Take winning out of the equation if it means having to throw the curveball. Teach the pitcher the importance of throwing the fastball and the importance of the intent to try and throw it harder. Sooner or later, he will be evaluated by his fastball if his plans are to pitch above the High School level.
Right or wrong, the radar gun plays a big part in the way pitchers are evaluated and recruited.
CLICK the box below to discover the perfect time to start throwing the curveball.... I'm sure my answer is going to surprise you!
Trust what you FEEL!